Vancouver
7 min

In brief

Vancouver & national news

BIA RENEWAL LIKELY



So far so good for the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA), says its president, Randy Atkinson. As Xtra West reported last issue, the Davie BIA has just about reached the end of its five-year mandate and is now seeking renewal from city hall. As part of the renewal process, the city has to gauge the BIA’s support levels among its member businesses and property owners. If one-third of either the business or property owners oppose the BIA’s renewal, council will have to pull the plug. So far, however, it doesn’t look like the level of opposition is anywhere near that high. Despite the form letter that’s been circulating throughout the Village the last few weeks, opposition seems to be hovering around six percent, not 33 percent. As of last Thursday, 24 hours after the deadline to submit letters had passed, city staff had received just nine opposition letters from business and property owners in the BIA’s area. Seven of those letters came from businesses, all located on the 1200-block of Davie St. Staff won’t say who wrote the letters but note their names will become public at the council meeting Feb 3. As Xtra West goes to press, council is meeting to decide if the Davie BIA lives or dies. Atkinson is optimistic. He also notes that six Village residents wrote in to support the BIA. Though their votes don’t exactly count, they should carry some weight, he says, pleased with the community response.



***

DALLAS UP FOR PAROLE



Sean Anthony Cole, aka Dallas, will soon get a chance to ask the national parole board for early release from prison. He is scheduled to appear before the parole board this April. Cole pleaded guilty to drugging then robbing three gay men last spring. He also pleaded guilty to two additional counts of robbery. Police arrested him last February, after several gay men reported him and helped track him down. It wasn’t Cole’s first time targeting the gay community. Police arrested Cole in 2000 for a similar string of drug-robberies centering on the Dufferin Pub. This time, Cole operated around the PumpJack Pub on Davie St. Last May, a judge sentenced him to two and a half years in prison for his crimes. Now, less than a year later, Cole may have a chance to go free again. If granted parole this April, Cole will be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in the community under supervision, provided he abides by certain conditions.



If you have some conditions you would like to suggest to the parole board-or you’d like to submit a more general victim impact statement describing how Cole’s crimes affected your life and your sense of safety-you have until Mar 1, 2004 to contact the regional office in Abbotsford. Anyone can submit any information for consideration, staff say, including a signed petition. But people should know that everything they submit will be shown to the offender-though only after any means of finding the writers, such as addresses and phone numbers, are deleted.



To contact the national parole board, call 1.800.874.2652 or fax 604.870.2498. Or send mail to 3rd floor-32315 South Fraser Way; Abbotsford, BC; V2T 1W6.



***

NIXON APPEALS



Kimberly Nixon and her lawyer, barbara findlay, are appealing the recent BC Supreme Court decision against her. The decision overturned an earlier BC Human Rights Tribunal decision that ordered Rape Relief to pay Nixon the highest award for discrimination damages this province has ever seen. It’s important to appeal, says findlay, not only because the decision harms Nixon but because it sets a dangerous precedent for anybody seeking human rights protection in BC. In his Dec 19 decision, Justice E Robert Edwards said Rape Relief did not discriminate against Nixon because, as a private organization designed to promote the interests of women, it has a right to decide for itself who can join. Besides, said Edwards, the tribunal used too lenient a discrimination test to begin with; it should have put the onus on Nixon to prove that she was discriminated against. Findlay disagrees. The BC Court of Appeal has yet to set a date for the case.



***

SHARPE RETURNS TO COURT



John Robin Sharpe is back in court for an expected five-week trial starting Feb 16. Sharpe won some important freedoms from censorship in his last trip through the court system, when he helped carve out the artistic merit defence to the child pornography law. This time, however, the Crown is alleging that Sharpe sexually assaulted a youth he photographed between 1979-1982. Police came under some criticism in 2002 for their extraordinary press conference at which they appealed for the youth in Sharpe’s photos to come forward and testify against him. Some civil libertarians noted that police do not normally go to such lengths and wondered whether Sharpe was being singled out because of his past legal successes fighting the child porn law and the porn charges against him.



***

NEBBELING’S ROLLER COASTER



Gay MLA Ted Nebbeling grabbed some headlines Jan 26 when he suddenly announced he had married his longtime partner, Jan Holmberg, in a civil ceremony last November. He grabbed even more headlines the very next day when reporters made an announcement of their own: Nebbeling just got dumped from cabinet. The usually quiet gay MLA was one of five ministers pushed from the cabinet to the backbenches Jan 27 in Premier Gordon Campbell’s first shuffle since taking power in 2001. Many people jumped to the immediate conclusion that Campbell removed Nebbeling because of his same-sex marriage announcement. But both Nebbeling and Campbell were quick to deny it. Nebbeling told reporters that he had met with the Premier on Fri, Jan 23, and learned then of the coming cabinet shuffle and his imminent demotion. Nebbeling attributed the demotion to his own decision not to seek re-election at the end of his term-a decision he shared with Campbell at their Jan 23 meeting. It was only after they worked out their cabinet business that Nebbeling told the Premier of his marriage, both men say. The marriage had nothing to do with the decision to remove Nebbeling from cabinet, Campbell told reporters. While some gays and lesbians remain unconvinced, others suggest that Nebbeling knew his days as a cabinet minister were numbered and seized the opportunity to become the first-ever sitting cabinet minister to legally marry a same-sex partner. Nebbeling will continue to represent his West Vancouver-Garibaldi riding from the backbenches until the next provincial election.



***

MARRY GAYS OR QUIT



You have a choice: either marry same-sex couples or resign by the end of March. That’s the gist of a letter BC’s Vital Statistics agency sent its marriage commissioners a few weeks ago, The Province newspaper reported Jan 21. (Marriage commissioners are the people who perform civil marriage ceremonies for couples who’d rather avoid the whole religious affair; they’re appointed by the Vital Stats director.) Same-sex marriage supporters hailed the letter as a victory. “Obviously the province is realizing that the court has spoken very clearly about same-sex marriages and that individuals who are commissioners can now no more turn down a same-sex marriage than they could if they didn’t like the person’s colour,” councillor (and United Church minister) Tim Stevenson told the Province. “This is a very different issue than telling a church they would have to conduct a same-sex marriage,” he continued. “It’s a particular individual with a secular job. You either do it or you look for different work.” The letter did not say what would happen to unwilling commissioners who refuse to step down.



In related news, Vital Stats announced last week that more than 1,400 queer couples have legally tied the knot in BC since the province’s Court of Appeal made same-sex marriage legal last July. Just over 700 of those couples are Canadian (553 from BC and the rest from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and the Yukon); 766 are American, and 21 couples came from France, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Hong Kong combined. Lesbians outnumbered gay men by about 130 couples, making lesbians almost nine times more likely to get married than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, statistics in Ontario (the other Canadian province where queers can legally marry) are incomplete province-wide, but Toronto records show that almost 1,100 gay and lesbian couples have tied the knot there since it became legal to do so last June.



***

MARRIAGE AND THE COURT



Speaking of marriage, last week the Quebec Court of Appeal listened to two religious groups’ reasons for opposing a 2002 pro-same-sex marriage ruling. The ruling dates back to Sep 2002, when Quebec’s Superior Court found that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates the Charter of Rights. The decision closely echoed similar decisions in Ontario and BC. Both those decisions were appealed too; both appeal courts rejected the appellants’ arguments and upheld the right to same-sex marriage-making it now legal for queers to get married in Ontario and BC. Marriage activists in Quebec are crossing their fingers that their appeal court will uphold their right to marry, too. The court is still considering its decision.



Now, the federal government had originally planned to join the other appellants (the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Evangelical Christian Fellowship) in the Quebec appeal, but withdrew after the BC and Ontario appeal courts upheld same-sex marriage last summer. Instead, former Prime Minster Jean Chretien drafted a new federal law extending marriage rights to queers and forwarded it, along with a couple of related questions, to the Supreme Court of Canada for advice. Those questions took a sudden turn last week, when Chretien’s successor, Paul Martin, and his new justice minister Irwin Cotler, added an extra question to the list. While Chretien wanted the Supreme Court’s opinion on extending marriage rights to queers, Martin also wants the court’s opinion on denying marriage to queers. His new question asks the court what it thinks of simply maintaining the current federal definition of marriage, which restricts it to a union between one man and one woman. Critics say Martin is essentially trying for a back-door appeal: having officially dropped out of the Quebec appeal, Martin is nonetheless asking the next level of court to consider the same question that’s currently before the Quebec Court of Appeal.



Cotler says the government is not backing off its support for gay marriage. “We are reaffirming our position in support of same-sex marriage,” he told reporters. “This is unwavering. I reiterate it today.”



He admits, however, that adding a new question to the list now will likely delay the Supreme Court hearing until fall 2004-and delay any legislation the government might introduce until some time in 2005. The Supreme Court was originally scheduled to hear the government’s marriage questions in April. Martin denies he’s deliberately trying to postpone the contentious debate until after he calls an election this spring.